Philosophical fiction

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Philosophical fiction
Features Significant proportion devoted to discussion of questions normally addressed in discursive philosophy
Novel of ideas

Philosophical fiction refers to works of fiction in which a significant proportion of the work is devoted to a discussion of the sort of questions normally addressed in discursive philosophy. These might include the function and role of society, the purpose of life, ethics or morals, the role of art in human lives, and the role of experience or reason in the development of knowledge. Philosophical fiction works would include the so-called novel of ideas, including a significant proportion of science fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, and Bildungsroman. The modus operandi seems to be to use a normal story to simply explain difficult and/or dark parts of human life.

Prominent philosophical fiction

This is only a list of some major philosophical fiction. For all philosophical novels, see Category:Philosophical novels.

There is no universally acceptable definition of philosophical fiction, but certain works would be of key importance in its history.

Many philosophers write novels, plays, or short fiction in order to demonstrate or introduce their ideas. Common ones include: Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ayn Rand, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Authors who are fans or followers of certain philosophers tend to incorporate many of their ideas in their novels, but they are not necessarily considered philosophical novels. Generally a novel needs to explicitly reference and discuss many philosophical ideas before it can be considered a philosophical novel. Some of these examples include: The Moviegoer (Kierkegaard), Wittgenstein's Mistress (Wittgenstein), and Speedboat (post-structuralism).

A borderline case is that of Plato's Socratic dialogues; while possibly based on real events, it is widely accepted that with a few exceptions (the most likely being the Apology), the dialogues were entirely Plato's creation. On the other hand, the "plot" of these dialogues consist of men discussing philosophical matters, so the degree to which they fall into what moderns would recognize as "fiction" is rather unclear.

Author Name Date Notes
St. Augustine De Magistro 4th century Early example
Abelard Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian 12th century Early example
Ibn Tufail Philosophus Autodidactus 12th century[1][2] Early example
Yehuda Halevi The Kuzari 12th century Early example; Arabic
Voltaire Zadig 1747 Early example
Voltaire Candide 1759 Early example
J.-J. Rousseau Julie, or the New Heloise 1761 Early example
James Hogg The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner 1824
Thomas Carlyle Sartor Resartus 1833-34 Canonical
Goethe Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship 1795-96 Canonical
Leo Tolstoy War and Peace 1869 Canonical
Robert Musil The Man Without Qualities 1930-43 Canonical
Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1984
Aldous Huxley After Many a Summer 1939
Aldous Huxley Island 1962
C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy 1938, 1943, 1945
Søren Kierkegaard Diary of a Seducer 1843 A novel in the highly literary philosophical work Either/Or.
Friedrich Nietzsche Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1885 Perhaps the most well-known example of a modern philosophical novel.
Leo Tolstoy Resurrection 1899
Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot 1952 One of the most well-known philosophical plays of the twentieth century.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline Journey to the End of the Night 1932
Marcel Proust In Search of Lost Time 1913–1927
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince 1943
André Malraux Man's Fate 1933
Franz Kafka The Trial 1925
Philip K. Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 1968
Philip K. Dick A Scanner Darkly 1977
Philip K. Dick VALIS 1981 A novel version of his longer non-fiction book The Exegesis, outlining his intense interest in the nature of reality, metaphysics and religion.
Jean-Paul Sartre Nausea 1938
Jean-Paul Sartre No Exit 1944 An existentialist play outlining Sartrean philosophy.
Jean-Paul Sartre The Devil and the Good Lord 1951 An existentialist play outlining Sartrean philosophy.
Simone de Beauvoir She Came to Stay 1943 An existential novel outlining Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy.
Simone de Beauvoir Les Bouches Inutiles 1944 An existential play outlining Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy.
Simone de Beauvoir All Men are Mortal 1946 An existential novel outlining Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy.
Osamu Dazai No Longer Human 1948
Walker Percy The Moviegoer 1961 An existential novel outlining Søren Kierkegaard's philosophy.
Jostein Gaarder Sophie's World 1991
Yukio Mishima The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea 1963
David Markson Wittgenstein's Mistress 1988 An experimental novel that demonstrates Wittgenstein's philosophy of language; stylistic similarities to Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest 1996 Criticizes Poststructuralism/Postmodernism; influenced by Wittgenstein & Existentialism; introduces Metamodernism/Post-postmodernism.
Most novels by Albert Camus Absurdism
Most novels by Franz Kafka Existential Nihilism
Most novels by Hermann Hesse 1904-53
Most novels by Stanislaw Lem 1946-2005
Most novels by Ayn Rand 1934-82 Objectivism
Plays by Samuel Beckett 1938 - 1961


Novels by Iris Murdoch 1953-97
Novels by Anthony Burgess 1956-93
Novels by Simone de Beauvoir Existentialism; Feminism
Novels by Jean-Paul Sartre Existentialism
Novels by Andre Malraux
Novels by Marcel Proust[3]
Novels by Stendhal
Novels by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 1846-81 Existentialism
Novels by G. K. Chesterton 1874-1936
Novels by Clarice Lispector
The stories of Jorge Luis Borges Classical Liberalism
The novels of Umberto Eco Semiotics
The novels of Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Atheism; Feminism

See also


  1. Jon Mcginnis, Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources, p. 284, Hackett Publishing Company, ISBN 0-87220-871-0.
  2. Samar Attar, The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl's Influence on Modern Western Thought, Lexington Books, ISBN 0-7391-1989-3.
  3. Joshua Landy, Philosophy As Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust, (2004)

External links